Debbi Steele, left, and Bruce Cowan make signs Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Steele’s driveway in Port Townsend ahead of a Tuesday rally in support of the U.S. Postal Service and its role in facilitating mail-in voting during the first presidential election to be held during a global pandemic. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Debbi Steele, left, and Bruce Cowan make signs Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Steele’s driveway in Port Townsend ahead of a Tuesday rally in support of the U.S. Postal Service and its role in facilitating mail-in voting during the first presidential election to be held during a global pandemic. (Nicholas Johnson/Peninsula Daily News)

Rally for Postal Service today in Port Townsend

Demonstration coincides with national debate over funding, mail-in voting

PORT TOWNSEND — As House Democrats prepared legislation Monday to bolster the U.S. Postal Service and President Donald Trump renewed his criticism of mail-in voting, Port Townsend residents geared up to rally in support of America’s oldest federal agency.

Organizers with Indivisible Port Townsend, the local chapter of a national progressive advocacy group, say they believe today’s rally — set for 5 p.m. outside the Port Townsend Post Office on Washington Street — could attract more than 100 sign-waving Postal Service supporters.

And despite the agency’s recent politicization in the lead up to November’s presidential election — the first of which in the nation’s 244-year history to be held amid a global pandemic — organizers insist that ensuring the Postal Service’s ability to facilitate mail-in voting is hardly a partisan issue.

“The post office delivers 1.3 billion holiday cards each year, so I can’t understand why they think they can’t deliver ballots,” organizer Debbi Steele said, referring not to local postal workers but to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO who took over the agency in June at Trump’s behest.

“There seems to be a disconnect there,” Steele said. “They deliver mail in rain and sleet and snow; voting should not hamper them one bit.”

DeJoy has sought to streamline the financially strapped agency, which receives no tax dollars for operating expenses but has seen costs steadily rise, by cutting most overtime for postal workers, adding transportation restrictions and reducing use of mail-processing machines and mailboxes.

While those changes have been blamed for mail-delivery slowdowns reported nationwide, the impact in Port Townsend and Jefferson County remains unclear. Port Townsend Postmaster Mary Jane Duff declined to comment on operational impacts locally, and an employee who declined to be named said postal workers are “under orders from on high to not discuss local operations.”

In contrast, Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said workers are free to discuss local operations if they feel comfortable doing so. He said he is not aware of slowdowns in Port Townsend specifically, but said that, if they have occurred, they are minimal and not a direct result of changes implemented by DeJoy but rather a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and declining mail volume nationally.

Still, rally organizers say they worry that DeJoy’s changes could jeopardize the timely delivery of prescription drugs and other necessities, especially for veterans and seniors.

“This demonstration is about the outrageous appointment of DeJoy and the actions that have been taken to damage the efficiency of the U.S. postal system,” said organizer Bruce Cowan, who also serves as chair of the 24th Legislative District Democrats.

“Locally we can show support for our postal workers, who are a treasure to our community, and join the nationwide movement to hold the executive branch accountable.”

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in late March found 91 percent of respondents have a favorable view of the Postal Service, regardless of their political-party affiliation.

House Democrats are set to vote Saturday on legislation to pump $25 billion into the Postal Service and prohibit changes to the agency’s operations and level of service.

DeJoy is set to testify Monday before the House Oversight Committee.

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Jefferson County reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by email at njohnson@peninsuladailynews.com or by phone at 360-328-1222.

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